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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Australia v Japan, USA v Czech Republic, Italy v Ghana

Funnily enough, I was engaged elsewhere when the Australians and Japanese kicked off Group F at 2pm so I have to make judgement on the highlights, forgetting to record the match. This is something which I prefer not to do if I can see the match live, so that I'll have all the minutes at my disposal for intense viewing. Nonetheless, the speaking moments of this match was that the Japanese took the lead on 26mins when Shunsuke Nakamura drifted over a cross from the right and Mark Schwarzer came to collect it but seemed to have been impeded by the presence of Naohiro Takahara and Atsushi Yanagisawa's left arm. The ball went in and the referee gave the goal, to the stunned faces of the Australians. They aimed at levelling quickly, Mark Viduka became a constant menace to the Japanese defence when he aimed a left-foot effort then a right-foot follow up that were both blocked by keeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi, and Viduka went on to back heel into the path of the arriving Marco Bresciano for an effort that was tame enough for Kawaguchi to gather.

For almost an hour after Japan had scored, Australia were in danger of being so close but remaining so remote from scoring, in their first World Cup. They were making great effort to impose on the Japanese goal, Viduka yet again hitting a drive that Kawaguchi got down to superbly, but Japan finally wilted in the heat when a Lucas Neill throw from the left was met with Kawaguchi despairingly coming to punch but missed, and a melee in the box. Sub Tim Cahill, on for Bresciano, simply took aim and fired Australia's first World Cup goal ever into the net with six minutes of normal time remaining. Yet the lead could have returned to Japan when Cahill appeared to have brought down a Japanese player practically on route to goal in the box, the referee somehow denied the call.

The way Australia continued to come forward, they were not done, despite the minimal time available. A minute of normal time on the clock, Cahill emerged near the edge fo the box to hammer a shot off the left post then the right and in. Not to be outdone slightly, John Aloisi came forward in a two-on-two situation in front of the Japanese goal, the defender stumbled and allowed the former Coventry man to proceed and stroke in number three. It's a comeback, a superb one, one which may now question Japan's endurance under the heat as much as England's.

Now for me the USA v Czech Republic game should have been the one to have started at 2pm, then the Italy game then the Australians, so I presume yesterday's matches were in their order to appease evening time viewers. The Americans were keen but uninspiring, they passed around at times but found themselves heavily restricted as the Czech continued to chase and harass and close down, plus the Czech were way superior in the air, in all three areas. Countless times a high ball was met by a Czech player with some ease, nodding it down to a colleague than giving it away. I felt the USA had promise through DaMarcus Beasley's pace, the ingenuity of Bobby Convey, Eddie Lewis, Landon Donovan and skipper Claudia Reyna, and Brian McBride upfront. However the Czech were resolute, organised and kept within a strategic defensive plan of 4-1-4-1.

This formation afforded the Czech numbers to snuff out any attack and allow their full backs room to run down the flank, as Zdenek Grygera found to his fortune, meeting a delightful ball that kept in. Earlier inthe game Jans Koller was fouled by a firm Oguchi Onyewu presence behind him when they both challenegd for a high ball, something which I felt at first would spell for a 6ft-plus encounter throughout the match. However, as Grygera went to cross, 6ft 4in Onyewu ran to the by-line, leaving 6ft 7in Koller with 6ft 1in Eddie Pope. Onyewu hadn't covered the space near-post enough and Pope was sucked in by Koller's dummy run to the right. The cross was sharp and accurate, just right for Koller, who instead moved to his left and headed in a firm finish that Kasey Keller had little chance of blocking. Five minutes had passed, it was the kind of service that England should be giving Peter Crouch, who tips at the same height.

To their credit the USA fashioned a chance through Reyna, who struck the post from 20-25 yards, but the USA were to suffer from a similar shot 30mins later when Tomas Rosicky picked up the ball from 30 yards, was allowed space and time to tee up an effort that swerved away from Keller into the net. But an injury to Koller's leg forced the big man to retire from the match and potentially from the tournament, a suspected hamstring strain as the striker ran for the ball abd then dropped in some discomfort, clutching his right inside leg. Business went on as before int he second half with the Czech too superior to allow the USA any breathing space. Koller was replaced with Vratislav Lokvenc, at 6ft 4in almost like for like.

Rosicky had the freedom of midfield and along with Pavel Nedved strung along the American midfield like the pied piper. Rosicky almost added another with a shot off the crossbar but eventually notched a brace when a one-two with Nedved split the five USA players around them for Rosicky to run onto towards goal. Eddie Lewis was the last man and how he failed to notice Rosicky's run before it happened I don't know but his attempt to recover was futile as the recent Arsenal buy finished off for No.3.

Italy v Ghana was an excellent game. The Italians looked slightly out-of-sorts with known players either injured or on the bench and allowing for a changed line-up. As much as the Ghanians showed strength and battling playability against the Italians, the efforts of Luca Toni and Alberto Gilardino was making waves with Francesco Totti in a play-making role. Toni gave extreme height advantage at 6ft 5in but the Fiorentina man used his feet mainly to tussle and drag the Ghaninan defence. The breakthrough came from Andrea Pirlo as Totti passed to him from a corner, the AC milan midfielder came in and took aim with an effort that went through all in the box and seemed to come off a player into the net. Totti dropped over a delightful ball later on for Toni to run onto and hit, his tame effort went away from goal for Gilardino to snatch onto, but even his efforts were to no avail.

Totti came off due to a worry after he was fouled, replaced by Mauro Camoranesi. With the one goal, Italy continued to press forward but so did the Ghanians, Michael Essien and Stephen Appiah fighting out the mazy runs from midfield. Gilardino came off for Vincenzo Iaqunita, and this made me think of Toni, Serie A's top scorer last season. Recall that the Premiership's English top scorer was Darren Bent, who IS NOT with the England camp. Iaquinta was through on goal at one point but was flagged offside, yet as he ran on the last man, Sammi Kaffour, hacked him down, knowing he wouldnt be penalised due to the offside infringement. Iaqunita rolled and looked up and saw nothing was given, came off for treatment and came back on. Kaffour for me should have been booked because it was not necessary.

However, little after Marcello Lippi took off Toni, who had been immense up front, for Alessandro Del Piero, Iaquinta gained revenge on Kaffour. Pirlo intercepted a weak pass and ran on to drop a ball over for Iaquinta to follow but Kaffour was favourite, only for the former Bayern Munich man to underhit a back pass, Iaquinta continued running, rounded keeper Richard Kingston and placed into an empty net. Kaffour kneeled with head to the ground almost in as much disbelief as he was for Bayern in 1999 in the Champions League Final. The Czech Republic have scored the highest aggregate with 3 clear goals, none conceded, so far, the Azzurri completed their first Italian job. For the Italians, I felt Fabio Cannavaro was superb at the back, cool defending, cool head, aware of all around him.



Anonymous Striker said...

Hi guys:
Excellent post.

The Czech team look dangerous. Strong in all areas, quick, creative & will surprise many.

I place them in the group of favorites,although, if I had to place $, I prefer to view their 2 match to review in case I missed any bad habits in the 1st match.

They look strong

Cheers team!

6/13/2006 3:13 pm

Blogger sid said...

Hey man...Serie A's top scorer for last season was Luca Toni with 31 goals. Iaquinta was a suprise inclusion into the italian squad...and was selected over lucarelli. Iaquinta was having a good season till he was froozen out by Udinese for not agreeing to sign a new contract. He was forced to sign a new contract in order to play and i dont think he was happy and that effected his form. He also picked up a few injuries and his selection over Lucareli was a lil of a suprise. Erm he probably wouldnt have made it in the team if Veiri was fit...

6/14/2006 8:52 am

Blogger RedsMan said...

Hello striker and sid. Striker, I agree. The Czech looked organised to a tame USA side with little ambition. The Americans huffed and puffed but hadn't made enough to get near the Czech house, much less blow it down. I don't wish to dampen Rosicky's performance but against a side that seemed low on organisation in midfield and gave way space with poor positioning, I'm surprised Nedved didn't rip them up too. Therefore I too look to their 2nd game with Ghana, with Essien and Appiah working as hard again in midfield.

Sid, thanks for that, poor statement of fact from myself. I meant to say Toni instead of Iaquinta and somehow got them mixed up! The gist is Italy have their top scorer and we saw why, Toni was taking on the defence without the expected use of his height, and brought tremendous work rate for the Azzurri. England decided to leave Bent behind, Harewood too, not to mention Defoe, and went to shut up shop than use Walcott, said to be not ready.


6/14/2006 10:05 am

Anonymous Nturtle said...

Thanks for the reviews again Redsman...thankfully you have told me your secret....otherwise I'd have thought you watch every single game live!

I think the Czechs will do well...but it depends on how fit Koller can be for the next few games...his replacement didn't do much for the rest of the game...but Koller always held up the ball very well.

Hopefully Rosicky's goals are a sign to come for when he plays in the EPL for Arsenal! Along with Frings and Lahm's shots....they perfectly utilised the nature of the Teamgeist+ ball...nice and fast...with a little bit of swerve at the end! Top drawer stuff!

6/14/2006 10:32 am

Blogger T said...

More great commentary, as expected, Redsman. Thanx too Striker and Sid- always good to read your comments.

I should say a belated 'well done' to Nturtle… three goals in the last eight minutes is some going. Before the match I was thinking that Viduka or Cahill will be significant- and the Everton man shows that for a midfielder he really does have a great knack for scoring goals. I thought the Japanese goal was fair, and that they should have had a penalty at 2-1 down when Cahill chopped down Komano. But all credit to Australia- they made the most of that reprieve by going straight down the other end where Aloisi showed every one in England that there is life after Coventry City! I'll repeat that before the tournament I thought the first round shock will be the Aussie's drawing with Brazil- and having seen how lacklustre the reigning champs looked last night I think this is now a greater possibility.

The Czechs showed why I have tipped them for first place in the group. Their brilliant coach, Karel Bruckner, has constructed an international team that plays with the cohesion of a top club team… which is underlined by the fact that all goals came from open play. Rosicky showed that he is a total footballer - perfect for the Gunners! - and if anything I liked his second goal more that his long-range first goal because it shows that he has excellent composure when running through on goal. Big shame that Koller went down with an injury… as the BBC pundit, Leonardo, would say he is a 'reference point' for the Czech's. Hopefully Locvenc will prove a reasonable replacement because this Czech team deserves to have a good striker.

Italy were more impressive than I had expected. But then again I did not think Ghana were good- especially up front. I thought Toni showed excellent mobility for a tall striker and as this is the first real opportunity I have had to see him I can now see why he ripped up the Italian goal-scoring charts. Agree Redsman that Cannavaro was dominating in central defence…. and luckily for him he won't have Koller to put up with when they play the Czech's in what promises to be a massive game: a playoff - that in all likelihood is - to avoid Brazil.

6/14/2006 7:36 pm


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